More than parastatals should be privatised

THE government wants to privatise, but the tyranny of political correctness precludes it from saying so. Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene told the media before his first medium-term budget last week that the government would sell "noncore assets", but he insisted that privatisation is not privatisation.

The government’s orgy of interventionism, spending, debt and nationalisation during the past decade, and the resultant economic stagnation might have peaked, if Nene is to be believed. We might emulate the proven liberalisation, privatisation and tax-cut strategies of high-growth African and other countries. "There are," he said, "areas where government is not supposed to be" and "those assets should be disposed of". Disposal (for example, of Sasol) is one of three ways to privatise, the others being deregulation (airlines) and outsourcing (construction).

Talk is cheap so there is no way of knowing whether his promises mean anything. Previous promises to reduce red tape by the president and various ministers were followed by regulatory diarrhoea at the behest of self-serving bureaucrats, especially in such juggernauts as the Financial Services Board, the Competition Commission and the National Credit Regulator. 

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